Morocco has long been seen as moderate and progressive and King Mohammad VI, who is popular and respected, has shown an interest in human rights. After protests in 2011 linked to the Arab Spring, a revised constitution was introduced which diluted some of the king’s powers and which was broadly welcomed.
King Mohammad VI supported the widely-welcomed 2016 Marrakesh Declaration, a statement by more than 250 Muslim religious leaders, heads of state and scholars that defends the rights of religious minorities in predominantly Muslim countries.
Christians in Morocco
Morocco’s Christian community is growing, despite some repression. Estimates of the Christian population range from 5,000 to 25,000 expatriates and from 4,000 to 12,000 Moroccans, many of whom are ethnic Berber. Expatriate Christians enjoy considerable freedom, provided they do not evangelise, but they do not have enough church buildings.
The constitution provides for freedom to practise one’s religion, but it is illegal to do anything that could “shake the faith of a Muslim“. Article 220 of the Moroccan Penal Code criminalises any attempt to induce a Muslim to convert to another religion, with “proselytism” punishable by imprisonment – this includes distributing Christian materials and discussing the gospel with an intention to persuade. However, the New Testament has been translated into Moroccan Arabic and an Old Testament translation is underway.
Moroccan Christians mainly meet in small house churches and the authorities keep them under surveillance. Christian converts are considered apostates and experience pressure and occasional violence from family and community. They also face denial of inheritance rights and marriage rights and even removal of child custody. In a significant move, however, in 2017 Morocco’s highest religious authority, the High Religious Committee presided over by the King, stated that converts from Islam should no longer face the death penalty for apostasy.
Foreign Christian aid workers expelled
A severe crackdown on Christians was launched in 2010, initiated by two government ministers (Justice Minister Mohammed Naciri and Interior Minister Tayeb Cherkaoui) who had been appointed in January that year. The first major sign of this crackdown was a raid on a home group in February 2010, when 18 people including children were arrested and property was confiscated. Many other Moroccan Christians were subsequently taken in for police interrogation.
Foreign missionaries were expelled on the grounds of contravening the Penal Code regarding proselytism, or on grounds of “threat to public order”. Several had been expelled in 2009, but between March and July 2010 some 128 foreign Christians were deported, many of them aid workers. A media campaign at the time vilified foreign Christians and a Facebook campaign was initiated to target and endanger Moroccan Christians.
In April 2010, nearly 7,000 Muslim leaders signed a document describing the work of Christians in Morocco as “moral rape” and “religious terrorism”.
(Barnabas Fund/Church in Chains Global Guide/Compass Direct/Middle East Concern)